26 Of The Best Podcasts For Curious Minds

03 September 2019
Podcast, Spotify, Music
Our pick of the best podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and more covering technology, culture, science, politics and new ideas

Podcasts are now big business. In this post-Serial audio world, journalists, celebrities, academics and yes, anyone else who owns a mixing desk and a microphone now has a regular show. The quality is generally very high but some efforts can still be hit and miss with dozens of podcasts popping up around the same themes or TV shows. To help you out here's our guide to the best podcasts you should be listening to on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.

Hit Parade

What? A consummate series on music history, through the lens of the charts

When? Once a month with extra 'The Bridge' episodes

How long? Up to an hour and half for the main episodes

Chris Molanphy's Hit Parade, from Slate, isn't the kind of podcast you dip into on the commute. It's more the kind of thing you cancel all your evening plans for. The Bridge trivia episodes, in which Molanphy competes with listeners on music trivia, are fun but it's the major themed episodes that are the real star. Get into the three phases of the Bee Gees; the power of posthumous hits or the chart history of show tunes with Molanphy's meticulously researched deep dives that treat No.1 records with the respect they deserve.

The Dream

What? A fascinating exploration of pyramid schemes, the people who run them, and the lives ruined by them

When? 11 episode limited series

How long? Around forty minutes

In the mid-1980s, the US went wild for something called the "Plane Game". The idea was simple. You, and seven fellow "passengers" each pay $1,500 to hop on board a make-believe plane. Once that plane is full, the "captain" pockets all the cash and each passengers moves up a rung on the ladder towards being the "captain" of their own plane. While a few early joiners revelled in what appeared to be an limitless money machine, those towards the bottom wasted thousands. In The Dream, Jane Marie explores every facet of multi-level marketing schemes, from the heady get-rich-quick days of the Plane Game to the pyramid schemes that are rife on Instagram and Facebook. Get ready to meet some strange characters behind multi-level marketing schemes and the people who had their lives changed by them forever in unexpected ways.

The Secret History of the Future

What? Exploring the future by peering into our past

When? Every Wednesday

How long? Around 35 minutes

What does lab grown meat have in common with a potato? Strange and unappetising, the vegetable was initially shunned by Europeans when it was first imported to the continent in the mid-sixteenth century, but soon it became a staple crop for millions. Lab grown meat, argue Slate's Seth Stevenson and The Economist's Tom Standage in one episode, may well become the new basis of our future diets. Every week the journalists dig up a story from the history books that gives a hint about where we might heading in the future. Whether they're discussing the return of wind-powered ships or investigating the link between the phonograph and online music, each episode of The Secret History of the Future is crammed with new ways of looking at the modern world.

Ear Hustle

What? Step inside the walls San Quentin State Prison for a podcast exploring every facet of life behind bars

When? Every fortnight

How long? Around 40 minutes

Co-hosted by former San Quentin inmate Earlonne Woods and the visual artist Nigel Poor, every episode of Ear Hustle looks at the challenges of prison life – and the struggle to reintegrate on the outside – told through the words of inmates themselves. In prison, even the most trivial things take on an outsized significance, with episodes going in-depth on the trials of dating from prison, the politics of friendships and the crucial role that postage stamps play in the incarcerated economy.

Against the Rules

What? What ever happened to fairness? Michael Lewis investigates

When? Seven episodes plus a bonus episode

How long? c.45 minutes

As he takes us through stories of the 'refs' who adjudicate and pass judgement in worlds like finance, art, charity and sport, Michael Lewis always sounds slightly amused, even as he's digging into the decline in the power of fair, neutral referees and regulators, and the rise of biased ones, in every industry and aspect of our lives. Maybe the author of Moneyball and The Big Short knows something we don't or maybe you just have to laugh when story after story shows how susceptible most people are to some sort of incentivised behaviour or corruption. Against The Rules is from Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg's new-ish podcast joint Pushkin Industries and despite the fact it makes us pretty despondent about our fellow humans, it's a hoot.

Articles of Interest

What? Short but smart dives into specific elements of fashion

When? Six episode series

How long? 20 - 30 minutes

If you're a long time subscriber to 99% Invisible, you might have seen Articles of Interest pop in up your feed. Also available as a standalone, six episode series, each instalment takes on one specific detail about clothing – plaid, pockets, blue jeans – and digs into their history, looking at everything from class and gender to the impact of the loom on computer programming. Hosted by 99% producer Avery Trufelman, who speaks to experts on topics such as how Hawaii's Aloha shirt lead to casual Fridays in offices, it's perfect for people who'd rather listen to a podcast about dressing well than dress well.


What? Considered analysis about the tech industry by two hosts who really know what they're talking about

When? Every two weeks (ish)

How long? One hour

For smart, well-thought-out analysis of the biggest trends shaping the tech industry, look no further than Exponent. Hosted by Ben Thompson, the writer of one of the most highly-regarded tech blogs and newsletters, Stratechery, and James Allworth, head of innovation at Cloudflare, each episode dissects the workings of the tech industry from a strategic point of view. With a leaning towards the business side of things, rather than the cultural implications of technology, Exponent draws links between companies and headlines to really bring to the fore the trends that are driving the tech industry today. After a few episodes in, you'll begin to realise that although it feels like we're in truly uncharted technology, there is usually an antecedent to the situations tech companies end up in today, and getting your brain out of the latest headlines can reveal much about where you can expect firms to head in the future.

The Week Unwrapped – with Olly Mann

What? In-depth discussions of important topics that aren't in the headlines

When? Every Friday

How long? 35 minutes

Every week, Answer me This! co-host Olly Mann and writers from the news magazine The Week discuss three major news stories that aren't necessarily getting big headlines today, but have big implications for our lives. The scope of the show is huge and you can expect to hear stories about science, politics and culture dissected and vociferously debated. If you're bored of the same old headlines about Trump and Brexit, The Week Unwrapped is the perfect podcast to peek behind the news agenda and sink your teeth into something a little more substantial.

The Political Party

What? Interviews and comedy for political nerds

When? Every Friday

How long? 60 to 120 minutes

Hosted by comedian and former political advisor Matt Forde, The Political Party is the perfect podcast for politics geeks. Each week, he interviews figures from the political world, such as current and former MPs, journalists and diplomats from all parts of the political spectrum. Forde brings levity and endless enthusiasm to his interviews, extracting hilarious anecdotes from the likes of George Osborne, David Blunkett, Jess Philips and many more during live recordings.

Full Disclosure with James O'Brien

What? In-depth interviews with big names

When? Every Monday

How long? 50 minutes

James O'Brien has become a viral sensation thanks to his daily radio show and now he's transferred his interrogation skills to a podcast. Full Disclosure sees O'Brien interview big names from politics, entertainment, news and beyond with early episodes attracting the likes of Tony Blair, Kenneth Clarke, Deborah Meaden and Simon Amstell. It's a more laid back affair than his LBC radio show but O'Brien's sharp instincts are no less apparent.

Eat Sleep Work Repeat

What? Insightful interviews about making work better

When? Every Monday

How long? 30 to 50 minutes

Hosted by Bruce Daisley, Twitter’s European vice president, Eat Sleep Work Repeat focuses on how individuals and businesses can improve workplace culture. In each episode, Daisley interviews a different guest to get their insight on various aspects of life at work – it’s a great one to check out if you don’t have time to get through as many business books as you’d like. Guests include Sue Unerman on gender inequality in the workplace, Rob Briner on evidence-based management and Cal Newport on digital minimalism.


What? Analysis of national security and global events from real experts in defence policy

When? Every other Tuesdays

How long? 40 to 50 minutes

Politically-inclined podcasts in the UK and US are so often obsessed with the insular (admittedly juicy) goings-on of Westminster and Washington. Bombshell has a bit of that but the chat is much more obsessed with national security and whatever the international crisis is that fortnight – the Middle East, Venezuela, US trade with China – as it's twice monthly. On the mics, "the ladies" are Radha Iyengar Plumb and Loren DeJonge Schulman, both ex-National Security Council and Department of Defense bods, together with ex-academic and defence industry exec Erin Simpson. As a bonus treat, there's in-the-know special guests and delightful pop culture asides too.


What? Documentary series about one of the largest serial sexual abuse cases in US history and how it happened

When? Completed limited series of nine episodes

How long? 25 to 30 minutes

Believed from NPR tells the horrific story of Larry Nassar, the US Olympic gymnastics doctor got away with sexually abusing hundreds of young girls over several decades under the cover of "medical" procedures. The series forensically details how he got away with his crimes, playing on the trust in him that led many parents not to believe their children when they accused him, and the institutional failures that led him to evade numerous investigations.

Lovett or Leave It

What? Lighthearted chat about US politics from co-host of Pod Save America and guests

When? Every Saturdays

How long? 60 to 120 minutes

With Barack Obama’s former speechwriter Jon Lovett as the presenter, you can’t expect less than carefully picked words for the finest degree of eloquence. Lovett or Leave It rounds up what is worth remembering from the week’s top news, and is regularly punctuated with guest appearances from comedians, actors and journalists. The content is heavy with North American stories – that is, Trump-related news – but it is delivered so neatly that you are sure to laugh along. Particularly recommended if you are into rants and impressions.

99% Invisible

What? The stories behind brilliant design and architecture

When? Every Wednesday

How long? 30 to 50 minutes

Everything around us in the non-natural world has been designed and shaped by human beings. From city benches built to be deliberately uncomfortable to deter rough sleepers, to the serious design flaws that mean governments are turning their backs on cul-de-sacs, 99% Invisible tells the fascinating stories behind the parts of our world we don't always pay much attention to. As an added bonus, host Roman Mars has one of the smoothest voices in podcasting.

The Adam Buxton Podcast

What? Irreverent interviews with interesting people

When? Every Friday (with breaks)

How long? 60 to 120 minutes

Comedian Adam Buxton's podcast is amiably simple. He chats with people. But not just normal people, some of the most interesting actors, comedians, musicians and film makers from the UK and beyond. A recent selection of guests include Johnny Marr, Louis Theroux, Edgar Wright, Adam Curtis, Zadie Smith and Brian Eno. Buxton's "ramble chats" share the stage with his brilliant jingles. If you've had enough of ads for Squarespace and Harry's, Buxton's take on podcast advertising will brighten your day.

The Dollop

What? The most fun history lesson you'll ever have

When? Every Tuesday

How long? Around 90 minutes

The Dollop with Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds is the most fun you will ever have during a history lesson. Every week, Anthony reads a story from American history to Reynolds who has no idea what the topic is going to be about. This power dynamic puts Reynolds in the place of the listener, and the ensuing reactions are hilariously relatable – with just the right amount of mockery. The hosts make this podcast genuinely funny, whilst successfully teaching you about some seriously interesting topics, from the Radium Girls who rotted away, the history of Opium in the US and a shrewd look at Uber.

How Did This Get Made?

What? The story behind hilariously bad movies

When? Every Friday

How long? 40 to 90 minutes

Have you ever sat through a movie so terrible that you genuinely don't understand how it can exist? How Did This Get Made? covers this exact topic. Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas call up scores of their friends to sit through and comment on awful movies. If you enjoy poking fun at ridiculous films, this is for you. The hosts and celebrity guest stars give you a really accurate synopsis of the most terrible movies ever made, in the midst of incredibly humorous commentary.

The Tip Off

What? Behind the scenes of great investigative journalism

When? Every other Thursday

How long? 30 minutes

The Tip Off asks journalists to explain how they got the leads for their biggest stories. This weekly podcast gives a satisfyingly dramatic look at the detective work behind journalism. There will be car chases, slammed doors, terrorist cells, meetings in dimly lit bars and close shaves with despotic regimes. However, while all of these are worth a listen, what you really stay for is the episode on the Panama Papers. Hosted by investigative journalist Maeve McClenaghan, she asks the journalists who led the investigation how they managed to keep the biggest data leak in history a secret for so long.


What? In-depth series on the origins and machinery of Isis

When? Complete 12-part limited series

How long? 20 to 30 minutes

Isis has seldom been out of headlines since the terrorist group declared a caliphate in June 2014, before claiming responsibility for a long string of attacks that have killed hundreds of people outside of Iraq and Syria. But how much do we really know about who we're fighting in the war on terror? New York Times foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi gets behind Isis' mask in this 12-part series. After speaking to a Canadian Isis recruit who made his way to Syria to join the group's religious police force, Callimachi picks apart the rubble in Mosul to trace Isis' financial machinery before exploring how it systematised the rape and abduction of Yazidi women in Iraq. Fearless and unrelenting, Caliphate is investigative journalism at its most urgent.

The Habitat

What? The incredible story of a Nasa experiment testing what life on Mars would be like

When? Complete seven-episode series

How long? 30 minutes per episode, 210 minutes total

In January 2017, Nasa placed six people inside a dome at the base of at the summit of a Hawaiian volcano. And then the space agency left them there. For an entire year. The Habitat follows six imitation astronauts taking part in an experiment designed to test how real astronauts would survive in cramped quarters during a long and lonely mission to Mars. The result is a striking documentary series that's part Big Brother and part The Martian, told through interviews and audio diaries.

Exponential View

What? Insights on the future of tech with outstanding guests

When? Every Wednesday

How long? 30 minutes

Those familiar with Azeem Azhar’s in-depth and smartly curated newsletter of the same name will find the same level of quality and attention to detail in his Exponential View podcast. For those not familiar, Azhar is a former technology entrepreneur and journalist with a serious interest in exponential technologies – those, like AI, that are rapidly developing and changing business, political economy and society. Though Azhar is a brilliant and penetrating host, whether discussing cyberspace regulation or the future of renewable energy, the real star of his podcast are the guests: they read like a who’s who of world experts on the future of technology.

Reply All

What? A podcast about fascinating internet rabbit holes

When? Every other Thursday

How long? 30 to 60 minutes

This podcast will take you down some of the strangest online rabbit holes that you never knew existed. Whether it's exploring why mysterious Amazon packages keep getting sent to random addresses or finding out who is really behind those annoying call centre scams, Reply All is an investigative podcast about things you see on the internet but usually dismiss in an instant. Hosted by Gimlet's PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman (with occasional appearances from Gimlet CEO Alex Blumberg), it reveals just how bizarre our hyper-connected world has become.

How I Built This

What? Founders explaining how their companies became a success

When? Every Monday

How long? 45 to 60 minutes

NPR’s How I built this tells the story of successful companies in the words of their creators. Host Guy Raz speaks to a different entrepreneur in each episode, and has them recount how they built their business. The real draw for listeners is the calibre of guests that the show manages to attract: past episodes have featured the brains behind prominent startups including Instagram and Airbnb, but also more mainstream business leaders such as the executive chairman of Starbucks and the founders of Ben & Jerry’s. It’s an intimate insight into the history of well-known brands, and great inspiration if you’re looking to get your own business idea off the ground.

Ctrl Alt Delete

What? Interviews with high-profile women on the world of work and modern life

When? Every Monday

How long? 30 to 45 minutes

Funny and honest, Ctrl Alt Delete brings a much needed female perspective to the internet. As the former social media editor of British Glamour, Emma Gannon draws on her own experiences online to discusses the world of work and existing online with her high profile guests. If you are worried about how employable you will be in five years, worry not. From dealing with trolls to baring your soul on social media, this series has never been more relevant for emerging women in the workplace.

No Such Thing As A Fish

What? Weekly weird facts from the team behind QI

When? Every Friday

How long? 40 minutes

If you want a podcast that is informative without being painfully dry, No Such Thing As A Fish is for you. Each week, researchers from the TV show QI gather around a microphone and share discoveries from that week. True to the show's name, the topics are usually quite interesting. From getting ants drunk to whether humans are magnetic, listen in to swot up on the most niche facts that the brains behind QI have to offer.

Via Wired UK